Rights Group: Cambodia Media Still Not So Free or Unfettered

Rights Group: Cambodia Media Still Not So Free or Unfettered

Cowed, censored and sometimes bribed, the print and broadcast media in Cambodia are biased and by and large incapable of serving the public interest, local rights group Licadho said May 2.

With minor exceptions in print and radio, media ownership and government regulation have created a media landscape that heavily favors the ruling CPP, Licadho said in a new report.

The 72-page document, re­leased to coincide with May 3’s World Press Freedom Day, followed the findings released in Washington on Wednesday by the NGO Freedom House, which described Cambodia’s media as “partly free.”

Saying state broadcaster TVK was home to “the worst censorship in Cambodia,” the report also disclosed the findings of a survey of 141 reporters, 54 percent of whom said they had been threatened as a result of their work.

Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said Friday that report was not factual.

“The people who say that have never been journalists. They don’t know the ABC’s of journalism,” he said, adding that Cambodia now has a growing mass of free publications.

Journalists named in the report said May 2 they saw the press less as a Fourth Estate, than as a buttress to the work of authorities.

Pen Samitthy, president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists and editor of the country’s largest newspaper, Rasmei Kampuchea Daily newspaper, said he had not read the report but acknowledged that his newspaper supports the ruling party.

Nevertheless, Pen Samitthy said Rasmei Kampuchea freely reports on instances of alleged corruption and aimed to include opposition views.

“Not only Khmer newspapers but many newspapers in the world have one party or another,” he said.

While bribery of reporters is widespread, egregious cases are rare, he said, adding that the greatest problems for reporters in Cambodia were low pay, poor working conditions and lack of access to information.

“The problem is not fear. The problem is evidence,” he said. “The way to find documents in this country is very hard because we don’t have information access,” he added.

Friday’s report also said the government only infrequently grants licenses to opposition radio broadcasters while Cambodian TV screens are “no place to look for freedom of expression or objective information.”

TVK’s production system includes the vetting or censorship of controversial matters, often by the Information Minister himself, the report said. Newscasts frequently report on government infrastructure projects, which may explain why many poll respondents say they support the ruling party, it added.

Khieu Kanharith said TVK gave extensive airtime to opposition comments in the National Assembly and was not subject to censorship.

“We don’t control it because that’s illegal. Only after something is wrong can I address the situation.

CTN presenter Chum Kosal, who is in charge of information access at the Council of Ministers and is cited in the report, said CTN was not censored but supported the government all the same.

“To run television, we need to ask permission from the government and Ministry of Information. In the application form, it says we serve government policy,” he said.

“It means we support government policy but CTN sometimes also criticizes government officials who have done something bad,” he added. (Additional reporting by Kuch Naren)


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